Inheritance

Certain authors are hailed as being masters in the art of writing. With careful study, we can inherit this mastery and convey benefit to our own writing. Some authors are even courteous enough to write books on their art, such as On Writing by Stephen King, thus bringing us more benefit.

But there are still ways that we can profit from those excellent writers who don’t share their best practice in the form of a book.

Here are a few tips to enable us to do that:

  • Beginning. Seek out the writers, in your chosen genre, who are considered to be good at their craft
  • Richness. Read books by those authors but also, try reading from a variety of genres so that the different perspectives can bring a richness to your work
  • Techniques. Record your impressions as both a writer and a reader; for example, you may notice that the writing is ‘clunky’ in a story, but you are still drawn into the book. This can shed light on the techniques that writers employ to achieve a given effect
  • Conflict. As you read, make a note of how you feel by the end of each chapter. In his way, you will learn at what points the author builds suspense and creates conflict. (note to self: read The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell)
  • Plotting. Write a brief summary of what happens in each chapter (and a rough word count) paying particular attention to where the author introduces the major plot points and turning points
  • Characters. Make notes about each major character in the book that includes how the characters speak, their physical description, the back stories and the way they interact with their environment (including other characters)
  • Language. Pick out action sequences and note the average sentence length and the kinds of words used in these sections. Compare these to sentence length and word types in slower passages. In this way, you will learn more about sentence construction.

This is quite a complex area and there are many more exercises you could complete as you read a book. It is probably worth sticking to these basics until you become more adept at analysing a book. Any more than this at the beginning stages may leave you in danger of losing the enjoyment you feel as a reader of novels.

Having said that – it is worth trying to determine what allows (or drives) you to become immersed in a novel, and what breaks the spell. If you can replicate this in your own novels, then this will also have taught you something of great value.

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